Fox’s Sri Lankan jolly under scrutiny

Liam Fox's paid-for trips to Sri Lanka, revealed by LFF last month, are reported today in a BBC report into MPs' overseas trips paid for by foreign governments.

Our guest writer is Elliott Fox

Liam Fox’s paid-for trips to Sri Lanka, which were revealed by Left Foot Forward last month, are mentioned today in a BBC investigation into MPs’ overseas trips paid for by foreign governments.

The BBC, however, has overlooked an incident raised on our original story. In November 2009, Liam Fox spoke in favour of the Sri Lankan government in a Commons debate without mentioning he was in Sri Lanka the week before to attend the president’s party convention.

As Left Foot Forward said at the time, the incident occured amid rising allegations of war crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan army, and talks in Brussels of suspending a privileged trade agreement between Sri Lanka and the EU over human rights issues – which was indeed suspended last month.

Responding to Labour MP Mike Gapes’s concerns of a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, Mr Fox had said:

“As members of the European Union, we have to be careful not to lecture too much or give too few incentives in a country that is beginning to move very much in the right direction.

Three days earlier, he registered a visit to Sri Lanka from 14 to 17 November 2009, which was paid for by the Sri Lankan Development Trust:

“To attend the Sri Lanka Freedom Party national convention and for meetings with the President of Sri Lanka and the Foreign Minister.”

According to the MPs’ code of conduct, they must declare a financial interest if a foreign trip “might reasonably be thought by others to influence the speech, representation or communication in question” – this includes making a verbal declaration of interest when speaking during a debate.

UPDATE 22.47:

It has come to our attention that the third of Liam Fox’s trips to Sri Lanka in November 2009 was paid for by the Sri Lankan Development Trust and not the Sri Lankan government. It was therefore factually incorrect to say that the trip was at “the country’s expense”. However, Liam Fox did make trips to Sri Lanka in March 2009 and August 2009 which were, respectively entirely and partially paid for by the Sri Lankan Government.

The House of Commons’ Code of Conduct states:

“It is the responsibility of the Member, having regard to the rules of the House, to judge whether a financial interest is sufficiently relevant to a particular debate, proceeding, meeting or other activity to require a declaration. The basic test of relevance should be the same for declaration as it is for registration of an interest; namely, that a financial interest should be declared if it might reasonably be thought by others to influence the speech, representation or communication in question. A declaration should be brief but should make specific reference to the nature of the Member’s interest.

“In a debate in the House the Member should declare an interest briefly, usually at the beginning of his or her speech.”

Although Liam Fox registered the trips in the correct manner, he did not make his interest clear when he spoke in the House of Commons debate on foreign and commonwealth affairs and defence on November 23rd about Sri Lanka, other than to talk of his “long involvement in Sri Lanka”.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.